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Budget Magic: Escape Protocol Lock (Standard)


ሰላም።, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading back to Ikoria Standard to play a card that I've been wanting to build around ever since it was previewed: Escape Protocol! While the most common cycling deck is Standard is Jeskai Cycling, which looks to go wide with tokens and eventually throw a huge Zenith Flare at the opponent's face, our deck today is going a very different direction with cycling; it's looking to repeatedly blink a handful of creatures with strong enters-the-battlefield triggers to lock our opponent out of playing Magic at all! How good is our new (and arguably improved) Astral Slide? Is prison back in Standard? How can we use Escape Protocol not just for value but also to lock our opponent out of the game? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Escape Protocol Lock

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The Deck

Escape Protocol Lock is basically a strange cycling-based control deck with some prison-style elements to potentially lock the opponent out of the game altogether. The main goal of the deck is to stick an Escape Protocol or two along with a creature with a powerful enters-the-battlefield trigger and then repeatedly blink the creature with Escape Protocol by cycling to generate value and annoy our opponent until they either give up or we beat them down with our motley crew of small creatures.

Escape Protocol

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Escape Protocol is the centerpiece of our deck. The enchantment is a lot like one of the best cycling payoffs of all time: Astral Slide. Both enchantments can exile and return a creature to the battlefield as a bonus for cycling a card. And while Escape Protocol does have the downside of it costing a mana to blink a creature, it also has a huge upside, in that when it blinks a creature, it comes back into play immediately rather than at the end of the turn. The immediacy of Escape Protocol is what gives us the lock-combo potential that our deck is built around.

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Of course, for Escape Protocol to do anything, we need cycling cards to trigger it. We have a bunch of different options for this, ranging from Wilt to Neutralize, Migration Path, and finally Boon of the Wish-Giver. While the main purpose of all of these cards is to cycle cheaply to trigger Escape Protocol and blink creatures with enters-the-battlefield triggers, they are also all cards that we want to hard cast on occasion. Neutralize gives us a counterspell, Migration Path can ramp us (which is helpful, both in allowing us to cast our expensive top-end finishers and because our deck wants as many lands on the battlefield as possible since the more lands we have, the more times we can cycle and trigger Escape Protocol to blink a creature each turn) while Boon of the Wish-Giver can draw us cards. While all of these cards are solid, Wilt might be my favorite of the bunch, giving us a main-deck answer to annoying artifacts and enchantments like Fires of Invention, Wilderness Reclamation, Witch's Oven, and friends. 

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So, what are we blinking with Escape Protocol? In the early game, it's mostly card-draw and ramp creatures. Fblthp, the Lost and Risen Reef draw us a card when they enter the battlefield (while Risen Reef also ramps us if we happen to draw a land). Meanwhile, Thassa's Oracle is pretty synergistic with Escape Protocol since when we cycle a card and blink it, we can use Thassa's Oracle to dig several cards deep into our library for something that we want and then immediately draw it when our cycling card-draw trigger resolves, almost turning it into a repeatable tutor. 

Apart from just generating card advantage, these cheap creatures are also essential for staying alive in the early game. With the help of Escape Protocol, something small like Fblthp, the Lost can block a massive Cavalier or another big creature turn after turn. We can block and, before damage, use Escape Protocol to blink Fblthp, the Lost, which means we not only fizzle our opponent's attack but also end up drawing two cards (one from Fblthp's enters-the-battlefield trigger and another from cycling). 

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While drawing a bunch of extra cards with the help of Escape Protocol is fun, our deck is really trying to set up the lock of Frilled Mystic and Escape Protocol. Assuming we can keep a cycling card or two in hand (which usually isn't too difficult thanks to all of our card-draw creatures and the number of cycling cards in our deck), this combo essentially gives us infinite uncounterable counterspells. We can cast Frilled Mystic to counter a spell, and then whenever our opponent tries to do something relevant, we can simply cycle a card, blink Frilled Mystic, and counter that spell as well. The end result is that we can essentially hard lock our opponent out of ever resolving another spell as we beat down with our random dorks to win the game. Even better, since we're not technically casting a spell, the Frilled Mystic / Escape Protocol lock works through cards like Teferi, Time Raveler and Elspeth Conquers Death, which are normally solid ways to shut down counterspells.

While just Frilled Mystic and Escape Protocol form a soft lock, there is a risk that if the game goes long, we'll run out of cards to cycle to trigger Escape Protocol and blink Frilled Mystic. To make the lock even harder, we have one copy of Scholar of the Ages. Since all of our cycling cards are instants or sorceries, in our deck, Scholar of the Ages' enters-the-battlefield trigger essentially reads "Return two cycling cards to your hand." This means that we can cycle a card every turn to blink Frilled Mystic to counter something (or if we don't need to counter anything, something like Risen Reef to draw cards and ramp) and then cycle another card to use Escape Protocol to blink Scholar of the Ages and return both cycling cards to hand. This ensures that we'll never run out of ways of trigger Escape Protocol, which in turn ensures that we'll have as many counterspells and as much card draw as we need to eventually close out the game.

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Last but not least, we have a couple of creatures with removal-based enters-the-battlefield triggers. Dream Eater returns one of our opponent's permanents to hand when it comes into play while also surveilling through our deck to make sure that we draw action. Meanwhile, Agent of Treachery does basically the same thing but steals rather than bounces the permanent. With the help of our cycling cards and Escape Protocol, we can potentially reuse these enters-the-battlefield triggers multiple times each turn, which means that over the course of a few turns, we should be able to clear our opponent's battlefield of any relevant permanents, allowing us to win the game by beating down with our random creatures.

Wrap-Up

As for our record, we went 3-2 with Escape Protocol Lock, which is a reasonable performance for a deck that costs less than $60 in paper and only has eight non-land main-deck rares and mythics on Arena. That said, our deck has some very good and very bad matchups. Escape Protocol Lock is great against various midrange and even ramp decks that are mostly looking to play one or two big spells each turn. Our Escape Protocol / Frilled Mystic lock is perfect for locking down the game in those matchups. On the other hand, aggro decks like Mono-Red or Rakdos are really, really tough. We don't really have true removal that costs less than six mana, which is rough against decks flooding the board with cheap creatures. While we do have a lot of decent early-game blockers, once our opponent finds something like Embercleave to get around our "chump block and blink the blocker with Escape Protocol" plan, there isn't a whole lot we can do. While there are ways to improve the aggro matchup (most easily by splashing into another color), there aren't a ton of good ones that keep the deck down in the ultra-budget price range.

As far as improvements to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm pretty happy where it ended up in general, although I am interested in trying Wicked Wolf as a potential sideboard card against aggro. While we don't really have Food to grow it or make it indestructible, blinking Wicked Wolf every turn with Escape Protocol might help to shore up our bad matchups against Mono-Red and other similar little-creature aggro decks.

All in all, Escape Protocol Lock seems reasonably competitive for a budget deck, and more importantly, it has to be one of the best decks in all of Standard for making opponents miserable. Even in just our five matches, we got a few early scoops from opponents who simply couldn't deal with our infinite-ish counterspell lock of Frilled Mystic and Escape Protocol. While you can certainly win some matches with Escape Protocol Lock, the real reason to play it is to ruin your opponent's day by locking them out of the game, which isn't something players are used to in Standard!

Ultra-Budget Escape Protocol

Our list this week is cheap enough that we don't have an ultra-budget list, although I did want to mention a couple of possibilities if you're looking to make the deck even cheaper. In paper, you could replace Agent of Treachery with Meteor Golem to save about $20 (bringing the deck's total price down under $40). While this is a pretty big downgrade, repeatedly blowing up non-land permanents with the help of Escape Protocol and Meteor Golem still seems pretty sweet, especially for more casual play.

Meanwhile, on Magic Arena, you can replace Temple of Mystery with Simic Guildgate and Castle Vantress with more Islands, if you're looking to save on wildcards. You could also do the same Agent of Treachery–for–Meteor Golem swap we just discussed, although if you're playing on the ladder, you probably need Agent of Treachery to compete. Regardless, just by cutting the lands, you can get the cost of the deck down to two mythics and six rares in the main deck, making Escape Protocol Lock very cheap for best-of-one play on Magic Arena.

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For our non-budget build this week, we not only get an extra color (white) but also 20 more cards in our deck so that we can take advantage of Yorion, Sky Nomad as a companion. The deck's core is the same, but going into white offers a couple of big upgrades. First, it gives us access to removal, like Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, Deputy of Detention, and Glass Casket, to (hopefully) improve our matchup against aggro. Second, it offers some spicy blink targets for Escape Protocol, with Knight of Autumn giving us repeatable removal for artifacts or enchantments and lifegain against aggro, Angel of Grace providing another backup lock (if we can keep blinking it every turn, it becomes really difficult to die thanks to its Angel's Grace–like enters-the-battlefield trigger), and Lumbering Battlement as a backup Yorion, Sky Nomad, allowing us to reuse all of our enters-the-battlefield triggers each turn. While going up to 80 cards means we see Escape Protocol and Frilled Mystic slightly less often, the upside of fixing our bad matchups and getting some sweet new tricks makes it more than worth the cost, especially considering Yorion, Sky Nomad isn't just a random eighth card but another way to blink our creatures for value that happens to work really well with Escape Protocol itself.

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.



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